By the Same Token

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The word token is used with several meanings.

From an Old English verb meaning “to show,” in the broadest sense a token is “something that serves to indicate a fact; a sign or a symbol.” The sign could be miraculous or merely evidence of something:


I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth. –Genesis, 9:13, KJV

God granted these holy men [the 100 fed miraculously by Elisha] a gracious token that the famine had lifted

The retiring employee received a watch as a token of the company’s appreciation.

As a physical object, a token may be a metal or plastic disk that serves to show that money has been paid for transportation or admission (e.g., a bus token). Board games like Monopoly include tokens used in play.

The expression “by the same token” means “for the same reason” or “in the same way.” Here are two correct examples of its use:

there was little evidence to substantiate the gossip and, by the same token, there was little to disprove it –example, OxfordDictionaries

because his mind is flexible it responds quickly … to what is before it, and by the same token it can call up from within a host of appropriate ideas example, Merriam-Webster

As is happening to many venerable expressions in this age of limited reading of traditional literature, “by the same token” is being altered by speakers who aren’t quite sure how to use it:

However at the same token, this same conversation could apply to couples who go through that process together…

In the same token, it cannot disregard basic issues of translation theory.

Does my body include the oxygen I am about to inhale and, on the same token, should I include the air I am about to exhale?

Not only is the preposition by being incorrectly replaced by at, in or on, the meaning is being lost:

I don’t dislike dogs (or other animals), but by the same token, I don’t want them in my house.

Here the meaning seems to be “on the other hand.”

With a documentation date of 1463, “by the same token” has had a good run in English. Could be that the expression–for some speakers at least–has reached retirement age.

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5 thoughts on “By the Same Token”

  1. I agree with Rich:
    Those abuses of the phrase “by the same token” are painful to see or to hear. “On the other hand” is also abused.

    In a deliberately humorous case, I have heard of two members of the legislature of an Asian country like Singapore or Malaysia, both with the surname of “Foote”. Of course, they were in opposing parties. On one contentious issue, one of them said “The Wrong Foote does not know what the Right Foote is doing,” or words to that effect. (I read this years ago.) Naturally, the speaker was claiming to be the Right Foote, and he was blaming the other with being the Wrong Foote.

    You might not have heard of it, but there are people with names like “Sir Peter Foote”.
    Of course, he adapted his statement from “The left hand does not know what the right hand is doing.”

  2. In local area networks (LANs), there is also the “Token Ring network”. In this type of LAN, the different stations are arranged in a logical circle. There is a small electronic message called the TOKEN that can circulate around the ring in one direction only, and messages circulate in that same direction. Only the station in possession of the token is allowed to “speak” (transmit), and after it sends one message, it passes the token along to the next station. Hence, messages are never allowed to “collide” with one another. The “token” here corresponds with the token on a Parchesi board or a Monopoly board. The Token Ring network was developed by the IBM corporation decades ago.

    The token-ring stategy is vastly different from a LAN system like the Ethernet. Ethernet is a popular kind of a “contention” network in which collisions are allowed to occur, but the system is designed so that the probability of collision is supposed to be low. Also, there is a collision-detection and retransmission system in Ethernet. A problem with an Ethernet is that once one becomes overloaded, its performance becomes VERY poor because it has so many retransmissions on it. These lead to a cascade of more and more collisions. An advantage of the Ethernet is that it is generally less costly than a Token Ring network. So, there is a trade-off between cost and performance.

    The Ethernet traces its origins back to a radio-based digital communication system that was developed at the University of Hawaii. It was one of the first systems to send messages in packets. Since it was from Hawaii, naturally this system was named ALOHA. Wow. Some communication engineers from California visited the Univ. of Hawaii, and after they saw ALOHA in action, they went back to their laboratories and they decided to adapt the idea of ALOHA to a LAN for groups of computers. (ALOHA is a form of a WAN = wide area network.)
    I have also seen ALOHA applied to certain kinds of satellite communications networks where it works very well. Thus, you could use ALOHA in the Lower 48 States, or Canada, to send messages back and forth to Hawaii. ALOHA Hawaii !

  3. Not only is the preposition by being incorrectly replaced by at, in or on, the meaning is being lost:

    Uh oh. Now we’re going to get a tsunami of all the prepositions besides by that might theoretically replace it in the phrase. “Upon the same token” will probably be first. “Concerning the same token” close behind. Then someone will point out that “on the same token” is fine, because you could be talking about an actual token, like a bus token, and there could be something “on” it for a second, or other iterated time (follow here with a long list of things that could be on a token: dust, lint, piece of peanut shell, piece of a different peanut shell, piece of actual peanut related or not related to aforementioned shells…). So you could say, “there is something on the same token as there was before.” Which still would still initiate puzzlement, but you get the picture. Or, the if the foreign object were nearby, rather than on, “at the same token…” is accurate. If The Token were the name of a ship! Then one could be “aboard the same Token” as someone else. You have to be thorough about these things, FGS!

    Now, what were you saying about meaning being lost?

  4. “…you could use ALOHA in the Lower 48 States, or Canada, to send messages back and forth to Hawaii. In Hawaiian aloha means hello and goodbye so the fact you could send messages both to AND from Hawaii is probably why they called it that. …and in Hawaiian aloha means means both “serious” and “silly and ridiculous”. Hawaiian is an very aloha language.

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